astronomy Newsletter


February 3 2015 Astronomy Newsletter

Hi everybody

Here's the latest article from the Astronomy site at

Obsolete Constellations
What happens to constellations when you don't want them anymore? Nothing, physically. They aren't real groups of stars like star clusters are. They're the products of human imagination and they come and go. Here are half a dozen of my favorite obsolete constellations.

*Week of Remembrance*
January 27th was the anniversary of the loss of Apollo 1, but it was followed by January 28 which was the 29th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. The space shuttle broke apart less than a minute into the launch, killing the seven astronauts. February 1st then marked the 12th anniversary of the loss of a second shuttle, Columbia. It broke up on re-entry scattering debris over wide sections of Texas and Louisiana.

*Clyde Tombaugh*
The discoverer of Pluto was born on February 4, 1906. He was working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, having been hired to conduct a search for Perceval Lowell's “Planet X”. Lowell himself was dead by then, but the search went on. Although Pluto was originally called a planet, it was nothing like the massive planet Lowell had been looking for. When NASA's New Horizons mission was launched, it was on its way to visit the last planet. Instead it will be visiting the first Kuiper Belt object. And Tombaugh will be there in a sense. Some of his ashes are traveling on the spacecraft.

*Ode to Hubble*
What does Hubble mean to you? For society? How has it inspired you? ESA and the Hubble people have a competition Ode to Hubble that anyone can join in. The main rules are (1) an original creation (2) inspired by the space telescope or one of its images of discoveries and (3) can be uploaded “ as a YouTube, Vine and Instagram video less than three minutes long.”

I liked their two categories of under and over 25. The under 25s will have lived with Hubble all their lives. It may be more exciting for us oldies! And, educators, this could be a super project for kids, bringing art, science, writing all together. Here's the page with the rules:

*Jupiter at Opposition*
One of the syzygies I wrote about a few weeks ago ( is coming up on Friday. Jupiter is at opposition on February 6th, and at the closest it will be to Earth until 2019. It has been very bright in the sky for some while now and will continue to be after the opposition, so go out and have a look at it anytime it's clear. In fact, if you're outside, it'll be hard to miss it. It's even bright in urban areas. It's rising at sunset and setting when the Sun rises, so it's up all night long.

*Venus at sunset*
If you see what looks like an approaching aircraft low in the western sky at sunset, have a longer look. You could be looking at Venus, which has been incredibly bright recently. I live near the flightpath of a major airport and I have to stand and stare for awhile sometimes to see if it's going to move. (Also Venus doesn't have navigation lights. That helps too.)

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I wish you clear skies.

Mona Evans, Astronomy Editor

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